The true church is defined in the Bible as a called-out assembly of those who are true followers of Jesus Christ. Of his true disciples, Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:50) The corollary would then mean that a false believer does not do the will of the Father. We know the will of the Father by what His Word says. It follows that false disciples must deny what scripture teaches:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
Therefore, it can be said that a “false church” is one that does not proclaim the plain things of the Bible. I like this definition:
The false church: The body of self-identified Christians who may, or may not, have begun the process of sanctification through belief upon…Christ. The false church either rejects the infallibility of scripture outright, or seeks to rationalize and radically “reform,” revise or reinterpret scripture to justify sin.
False churches exist because of false believers or false converts. They do not want to hear the truth of the Bible, so these false brethren join together and create a church of their liking, complete with a false teacher:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
If all the preaching and teaching at a false church suddenly became good and Biblically sound, do you think the people that attend would also become true disciples? Perhaps a few would, but for the most part they would no longer attend that particular church. They would either go elsewhere or stop going anywhere. French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) said “In democracy we get the government we deserve.” With the freedom to choose one’s government, comes the responsibility for that government. The same is true in countries with religious freedom, where a group can easily set-up a church of their liking. It could be said, “With religious liberty, we get the church we deserve.”
In Romans 1, the Bible speaks of God giving people over to their sins:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. (verse 24)
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural… (verse 26)
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper… (verse 28)
This is a form of judgement: the removal of God’s restraining grace. Restraining grace is present even for unbelievers. Charles Spurgeon said of it:
Oh! what a mercy to be prevented from sinning, when God puts chains across the road, digs ditches, makes hedges, builds walls, and says to us, “No, you shall not go that way, I will not let you; you shall never have that to regret; you may desire it, but I will hedge up your way with thorns; you may wish it, but it never shall be yours.”
A false church is likewise an indication that God has removed his restraining grace. He has given that church over to the desires of its members. He is no longer preventing false teaching.
False churches, thus, are a blessing. First, they keep a lot of false converts out of good churches. There are enough false believers in our doctrinally sound churches already. If we closed all the false churches, where do you think their members would go? A lot would end up in your local, Bible-believing place of worship. Then they would undoubtedly begin to make changes to what is taught, which brings up the second reason false churches are a blessing: they keep out false teachers. A bad church gives a bad teacher somewhere to go other than to your good church.
We should pray for those that are in false churches: both the members and their leadership. What is being taught will send them to hell if they do not repent. They must be evangelized with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. God will call out his elect from these false churches.
…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment… (2 Peter 2:9)
False churches are then a curse to those within them, and a blessing to the overall body of Christ.